Hymn 8

St Ephrem takes comfort from the last minute repentance of the Good Thief, but this leads him on to a quandary concerning the relationship of the soul to the body in Paradise. Although he finds himself unable to offer any way out of the problems raised by Christ's words, "this day you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43), St Ephrem is quite clear in his mind that the soul cannot enter Paradise without the body, and so the righteous cannot in fact enter Paradise until the final Resurrection, when the body and soul will eventually be reunited; in the meantime the disembodied souls await the Resurrection just outside the boundary of Paradise in a state that other Syriac writers describe as "the sleep of the soul."

There came to my ear
from the Scripture which had been read
a word that caused me joy
on the subject of the Thief;
it gave comfort to my soul
amidst the multitude of its vices,
telling how He had compassion on the Thief.
O may He bring me too
into that Garden at the sound of whose name
I am overwhelmed by joy;
my mind bursts its reins
as it goes forth to contemplate Him.

Hold me worthy that we may become
heirs in Your kingdom

I behold a dwelling there
and a tabernacle of light,

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a voice proclaiming "Blessed is the Thief
who has freely received
the keys to Paradise."
I imagined that he was already there,
but then I considered
how the soul cannot
have perception of Paradise
without its mate, the body,
its instrument and lyre

In this place of joys
anguish seized me
as I realized that it is not profitable
to delve into hidden things.
With respect to the Thief
a dilemma beset me:
if the soul were able
to see and to hear
without its body,
why then is it confined therein?
And if the body is no longer alive,
why should the soul be put to death with it?

That the soul cannot see
without the body's frame,
the body itself persuades,
since if the body becomes blind
the soul is blind in it,
groping about with it;
see how each looks
and attests to the other,
how the body has need of the soul
in order to live,
and the soul too requires the body
in order to see and to hear
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If the body grows deaf,
the soul does too,
and it grows delirious
when the body reels with sickness.
Though the soul exists
of itself and for itself,
yet without its companion
it lacks true existence;
it fully resembles an embryo
still in the womb,
whose existence is as yet
bereft of word or thought

If the soul, while in the body,
resembles an embryo
and is unable to know
either itself or its companion,
how much more feeble will it then be
once it has left the body,
no longer possessing on its own
the senses
which are able to serve
as tools for it to use.
For it is through the senses of its companion
that it shines forth and becomes evident

That blessed abode
is in no way deficient,
for that place is complete and perfected
in every way,
and the soul cannot
enter there alone,
for in such a state it is in everything
in sensation and consciousness;
but on the day of Resurrection
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the body, with all its senses,
will enter in as well, once it has been made perfect

When the hand of the Creator
fashioned and formed the body
so that it might sing hymns
to its Maker,
this lyre was silent
and had not voice,
until at last
He breathed into it
the soul which sang therein.
Thus the strings acquired sound,
and the soul, by means of the body,
acquired speech to utter wisdom

When Adam
was in all things complete,
then the Lord took him
and placed him in Paradise.
The soul could not enter there
of itself and for itself,
but together they entered,
body and soul,
pure and perfect to that perfect place--
and together they left it, once they had become sullied.
From all this we should learn
that at the Resurrection they will enter again together.

Adam was heedless
as guardian of Paradise,
for the crafty thief
stealthily entered;
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leaving aside the fruit
--which most men would covet--
he stole instead
the Garden's inhabitant!
Adam's Lord came out to seek him;
He entered Sheol and found him there,
then led and brought him out
to set him once more in Paradise

Thus in the delightful mansions
on the borders of Paradise
do the souls of the just
and righteous reside,
awaiting there
the bodies they love,
so that, at the opening
of the Garden's gate,
both bodies and souls might proclaim,
amidst Hosannas,
"Blessed is He who has brought Adam from Sheol
and returned him to Paradise in the company of many.2

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